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Introduction: Range (12)

A huge vocal range – what singer would not want that?!?

A picture of Voba pointing at the reader with the words "4 Octaves is your birth-right".
Everybody can have about 4 octaves of legitimate vocal range with the right training.

Range is the most basic and important thing for a singer, as in order to sing any song, you need to be able to reach the notes. If you don't have the range to sing a song, you'll struggle or not be at ease singing it. Furthermore, when performing a song, you want to focus on the emotions and the story of the song, rather than on "reaching the high note". Therefore, the more range you have, the easier it is to sing all kinds of repertoire effortlessly.


Range - Definition

What does “range” mean? How are different vocal heights created?

When we talk about singing and the voice, it's all about frequency. The lower you sing, the slower the frequency. The higher your note is, the higher the frequency. Frequencies are measured in Hertz (Hz) as vibrations per second. So the frequency of a note that you sing is the vibrations per second that your vocal cords have to do to produce that pitch.

Most people know the middle A of the piano to be 440 Hz (Hertz).

A piano showing the middle A of 440 Hertz, the A below at 220 Hertz and the one above at 880 Hertz.
Hertz describes the speed (times per second) that your vocal cords have to vibrate at to produce a specific pitch. Yes, to create the high A, your vocal cords have to meet 880 times per second... quite the sport, isn't it?!?

That means that for the middle A, your vocal cords have to vibrate 440 times per second to produce that sound. The A below that is only 220 Hz (Hertz), half as much, and if you go above it, A is 880 Hz, double. So the higher the note, the faster your vocal cords have to vibrate, and the lower the note, the slower your vocal cords have to vibrate.


High Notes

As singers, we can produce higher pitches in a few different ways. My goal with anatomical vocal training is to reach higher notes easily and healthily. First of all, some basics:

There are three different ways to create higher notes. Let me introduce you to all of them.


1. More Air Pressure.

A gif of a flag that is flying in moderate wind.

Imagine the vocal cords symbolised by a flag in the wind: When the wind is very slow, the flag flies slowly – it has a low (slow) frequency. However, when there's a storm rushing over the land, the flag flies extremely quickly – it flutters with a very high frequency.


That means that more air pressure can augment the frequency that an object vibrates with: The storm has more air pressure behind the wind than the little breeze.

The same thing happens in the throat: If you push more air through it, then you can make the vocal cords flutter faster, like that flag in the wind that is racing. However, there's a major problem with that!

The Larynx in the lateral view, showing the vestibular folds just above the vocal cords.
This view is inside the thyroid cartilage from behind.

Air-Pressure Problem

In the throat, above your vocal cords, sit the vestibular folds, also called the false vocal folds.


If you push the air from below on your vocal cords, then they might flutter faster, but they are also pushed upwards, towards the vestibular folds. In between the vocal cords, there is epithelial tissue. Epithelial tissue is a bit more robust than other bodily tissue, like the tissue on the insides of your palms.

A picture showing the inside and back of a pair of hands, comparing the palm of the hand to the material in between the vocal cords, because those two have similar properties.
The epithelial tissue on your palm is more durable and can withstand more than the tissue on the back of your hand.



It's a little bit harder. It's better adjusted to touch. Between the vocal cords, it's the same thing: the vocal cords are made to be able to meet one another.


A picture that marked the mucous membranes in red that are above the vocal folds and below the vestibular folds to indicate the danger of those two entities meeting.
On top of the vocal cords, as well as below the vestibular folds, there are mucous membranes. Mucous membranes consist of much softer tissue than epithelial tissue.


However, between the vocal cords and vestibular folds - on top of the vocal cords and below the vestibular folds - there is mucous membrane tissue, which is really soft tissue. Therefore, if the tissue of the vocal cords and the vestibular folds touches and rubs against each other – because the vocal cords are vibrating – it creates a problem because this tissue is not made to touch, let alone rub against itself.





So, when your vocal cords rub against your vestibular folds, it is as if you were rubbing the skin on the back of your hands together: it can easily create a burn blister. The same thing happens on your vocal cords: through the continuous friction, your vocal cords become swollen.

A singer struggling with a high note.

That's how you get a sore voice, hoarse voice, and lose your voice, when the vocal cords and the vestibular folds touch and rub against each other where they're not supposed to touch.


Pushing more air through your windpipe is actually problematic because it can create immense problems for your vocal cords, due to the friction that you will most likely create between your vocal cords and your vestibular folds, which are not made to touch. This impact is especially significant if you always depend on air pressure in order to reach high notes.



2. Aliquote Division

Option number two for creating higher sounds is called "Aliquot Division." Here's how it works:

A picture of the vocal cords pressing together, in order to be able to create air pressure beneath them to cough something out.
You're looking inside the larynx from behind. The vocal cords press against each other, so that you can mount pressure against them from below before you cough.

When you cough, your vocal cords initially push against each other very tightly so that you can create overpressure under them.


When you then suddenly let go to open them, you cough, and whatever you want to cough out comes out. However, the vocal cords don't press as just one entity on one another. There are certain points in your vocal chords that press against the other vocal cords. These “pressure points” are spread throughout the entire vocal cord length and they appear in pairs (a pressure-point on the right vocal cords pairs with one on the left vocal cord).

The vocal cords shutting tightly with all the pressure-points pushing against one another.
The vocal cords shutting tightly with all the pressure-points pushing against one another.

When all these points press against their counter part simultaneously, your vocal cords close very tightly.

However, in singing, we can learn how to press one, two, or three of these pressure points together and keep the rest of the vocal cord vibrating. Some people can activate up to seven of these “pressure-points” accumulatively.

This mechanism immobilizes the front of the vocal cords so that only the back of the vocal cords vibrates.

A picture showing the vocal cords vibrating freely, and then the first 3 aliquote divisions that accumulatively shorten the vocal cords, immobilizing more and more vocal cord mass.
This is the mechanism that makes the voice sound (and feel) more and more tight the higher the singer takes the voice. It's a very unhealthy mechanism, because it creates an imbalance in the muscle.

Usually, this mechanism starts in front of the vocal cords - in the first third - then gradually adds more and more pressure points towards the back of the vocal cords, so that more and more mass of the vocal cords is immobilized, the higher the sound gets. That's why you often hear people's voices go more and more tight the higher they sing. It's the accumulative aliquot divisions they are dependent upon to produce higher sounds.

Many of you will recognize this phenomenon as whistle notes, but that is only the most extreme version of it. People usually start calling it whistle notes after about three to five aliquot divisions. Falsetto is the less extreme but equally harmful version (1-3 aliquot divisions).

A picture showing vocal nodules at the point in the vocal cords, where singers usually create their first aliquote division.
Vocal nodules appearing in the first third of the vocal cord symmetrically on both vocal cords is often an indication that a singer is using aliquote division for the higher notes.

Using aliquot divisions is extremely dangerous for singers. Here is a little allegory to illustrate why that is: Imagine running a marathon (singing is a very physical thing...remember 880+ vibrations per SECOND!...) with a rope or string wrapped tightly around your left thigh. You might be lucky and get through the marathon unharmed, but you might not. If you frequently run marathons with a rope immobilizing your muscle, restricting the blood flow, bringing immense imbalance to your muscle, you will eventually get problems.

The same thing applies to your vocal cords: If you always clip off parts of your vocal cords somewhere in the middle of the muscle, you can seriously damage your voice.


That's why it can be observed that vocal nodules often develop in the first third of the vocal cords. It's the first point where people usually start clipping off their vocal cords to produce higher notes. It creates too much imbalance in the muscle work when the whole muscle cannot work, but just parts of it, and you hold parts of it immobile/clipped off.


3. Stretching the Vocal Cords longer

A picture of the vocal cords in resting position, stretched a bit and stretched to the maximum.
Stretching your vocal cords long is the only healthy way to create higher pitches.

This way to create a higher pitch is the only healthy way. The mechanism of stretching the vocal cords can be compared to the mechanism of tuning a guitar string: When a guitar string is very loose, it makes a really low sound. When you stretch that guitar string, the sound gets higher.

Two pictures: Left showing the vocal cords in resting position. Right showing the vocal cords stretched to the maximum.
The Crico-Thyroid Pars Oublique muscle stretches the vocal cords up to 30% longer than they are in resting position. That vocal stretch equals a range of about 4 octaves.

Concerning the vocal cords, there are certain muscles (first and foremost the Crico-Thyroid Muscles) that stretch the vocal cords. When you train these muscles to be super strong, they can easily provide you with three and a half up to four octaves of vocal range.

That way, you can always reach all the notes you need to reach and all the frequencies with the entire vocal cord, and not with parts of it immobilized. And that newfound vocal freedom will enable you to have crazy dynamics as well (becoming louder or quieter in the middle of a song or a note).


Re-Learning

Changing from using a lot of air pressure or clipping off parts of your vocal cords to reach certain notes, to just pulling the vocal cords long, is a process. As human beings, we are creatures of habit. Everyone is used to a certain way of using their body. If you have trained and used your voice by clipping it off or pushing with more air pressure for 5 to 10 (some of us up to 30 to 40) years, it's going to take some input and time to change those habits and not do that anymore.

Voba advocating for patience and persistence with your voice training.
Patience and Persistence are the two best friends of successful voice training.

In order to use your full voice again with the full vibration of your vocal cords over your entire range, you might have to train for a few months up to a few years to regain the four octaves of legitimate vocal stretch that all of us once had when we were toddlers. But that is just because we have trained the habit of doing it these other ways for so long that it's difficult to do it any other way now.

Using your full vocal cords again up to the highest heights might take some getting used to. It might take a while for you to actually get there, but it is very much worth it, since it has amazing applications for your vocal health and freedom:

  • You will not get a sore voice or hoarse voice anymore because your vocal cords and your vestibular folds won't meet.

  • You will not get vocal nodules from a wrong vocal technique because you won't use aliquot divisions that bring imbalances to your muscle usage. (Please note that there are other causes for vocal nodules, like allergies, toxins, or genetic predispositions. But 80% to 90% of vocal nodules develop due to vocal abuse, like aliquot divisions.)

Furthermore, only using vocal pull to reach high notes frees the voice. If you use your entire voice to produce all sounds, your voice will become V-shaped rather than A-shaped.

Two pictures. One showing a voice that is quiet at the bottom, but goes more and more narrow to the top. And the opposite that shows how a V-Shaped voice is more quiet at the bottom and goes more and more broad and loud toward the top.
V as in Voba... 😉 An A-Shaped (untrained or poorly trained) Voice is broad at the bottom, but goes more and more narrow to the top. A V-Shaped voice is more quiet at the bottom (even though it's usually still louder than an A-Shaped Voice down there...) and goes more and more broad and loud toward the top.

Many people have a voice that goes quieter and quieter, smaller and smaller, to the top. Folks who don't use aliquot divisions to reach higher notes have a voice that goes broader and broader to the top. Such a voice provides a sensation of physical, mental, as well as emotional liberation for the singer who wields it.

But that also constitutes another reason why switching back to using your full vocal cords can take a while: it's an emotional process to actually allow yourself to be that loud, to fill entire rooms with the resonating sound of your voice. It's such a liberating sensation; it might take a while to get used to it again. (Last time you were able to do that was when you were a toddler. That's probably been a while...)


I hope this article can help you understand how to produce high notes with your voice in a healthy way, the advantages of singing with your full voice, as well as the risks of using aliquote divisions and air pressure to produce higher pitches.

If you would like to learn more, please check out the corresponding video to this blog article:

Furthermore, here you can get more information about aliquote divisions and why they are so dangerous.

Additionally, you can check out this playlist about support and how to stop using air pressure to create higher sounds.


Picture Sources:

Pic 12.2 Gif - Image by Adam Brango

PIC 12.6 Man struggling to sing

Image by <a href="https://www.freepik.com/free-photo/young-african-american-jazz-musician-singing-song_12647936.htm#page=3&query=singing&position=46&from_view=search&track=robertav1_2_sidr">Image by master1305</a> on Freepik

PIC 12.7 Overpressure under closed vocal cords

Image by: https://anatomytool.org/content/cenveo-drawing-larynx-and-vocal-cords-english-labels

PIC 12.8 Pressure points on the vocal cords for vocal closure

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